Nutrition and Wellness Blog

Recipes and tips from a Functional Dietitian Nutritionist

Types of Meal Planning: A Beginner’s Guide

Aug 2023 | Health and Wellness, Recipes

Cutting board and various bowls with chopped vegetables next to glass food storage containers with pre-prepared meals, Types of meal planning

Exploring Different Types of Meal Planning

Meal planning is a crucial aspect of maintaining a healthy diet while managing a busy lifestyle. By taking the time to plan ahead, you can save time, reduce stress, and make healthier eating choices. Let’s delve into some effective types of meal planning that can make your dietary journey smoother and more enjoyable.

1. Prepping Ahead of Time

Prepping meals ahead of time is perhaps the most traditional approach to meal planning. It involves dedicating a specific time, such as a weekend or a weekday evening, to prepare ingredients and meals for the upcoming week. This method not only saves you time during the week but also ensures you have balanced and nutritious options readily available.

Printed handout titled Weekly Meal Plan with a weekly list of meals set next to various glass food storage containers with pre-prepped meals, types of meal planning

Action Steps: Get Started with Meal Prepping Ahead of Time

  1. Choose a Day: Select a day in your schedule, preferably a weekend or a day off, to dedicate to meal prep.
  2. Plan Your Meals: Decide on the meals you want to prepare for the upcoming week. Consider breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks.
  3. Make a List: Create a detailed shopping list based on the recipes you’ve chosen to make sure you have all the necessary ingredients on hand.
  4. Prep Ingredients: On your designated day, spend some time chopping vegetables, marinating proteins, and pre-cooking grains or legumes.
  5. Storage is Key: Invest in a variety of airtight containers for storing your prepped ingredients and meals. Mason jars, glass containers, and resealable bags are excellent options.
  6. Assembly Line Approach: If possible, use an assembly line approach to efficiently prepare multiple meals at once. For instance, chop all your veggies in one go, then move on to proteins, grains, and so on.
  7. Portion Control: Divide larger recipes into individual or family-sized portions. This will make it easier to grab a meal on busy days.
  8. Refrigerate or Freeze: Store your prepped ingredients and meals in the refrigerator or freezer, depending on when you plan to use them.

By dedicating a few hours to prepping ahead of time, you’ll set yourself up for a week of stress-free, wholesome eating. Start small and gradually expand your meal prep routine as you become more comfortable with the process.

8 barbecued chicken breasts set on a grill, bulk cooking

2. Bulk Cooking

Bulk cooking is a practical strategy for individuals and families with busy schedules. It involves preparing larger quantities of meals and storing them in the fridge or freezer for later consumption. This method is particularly beneficial for those hectic days when you need a quick and healthy meal without the hassle of cooking from scratch.

Quick Tip: Time Block

Allocate a specific time in your schedule for bulk cooking. This could be a Sunday afternoon or a weekday evening when you have some free time.

A full lasagna with two pieces missing, leftovers

3. Cook Once, Eat Twice (Leftovers)

When it comes to the various types of meal planning, cooking once and enjoying leftovers for subsequent meals is an efficient way to manage your time and reduce food waste. By intentionally cooking extra portions, you create a convenient solution for lunch or dinner the next day. Leftovers can be transformed into new dishes or enjoyed as they are, offering variety without the extra effort.

Quick Tip: Opt for Freezer-Friendly Meals

Prioritize dishes that can be easily stored in the freezer. These can include soups, stews, casseroles, and chili. These types of meals are not only comforting and hearty but also tend to hold up well when frozen and reheated. Be sure to use high-quality freezer-safe containers to prevent freezer burn and maintain the quality of your meals.

Here are a few ideas for freezer-friendly meals:

  • Vegetable Chili
  • Chicken and Vegetable Stew
  • Spaghetti Sauce
  • Curries

By strategically selecting meals that freeze well, you’ll have an array of options readily available for those days when cooking from scratch isn’t feasible.

A woman holds open the lid of a slow cooker and stirs what's inside, types of meal planning

4. Instant Pot and Slow Cooking Meals

Modern kitchen appliances like the Instant Pot and slow cooker have revolutionized meal planning. These devices allow you to create flavorful and nutritious meals with minimal hands-on time. The Instant Pot’s speed and versatility, as well as the slow cooker’s set-it-and-forget-it convenience, make them valuable tools for busy individuals seeking healthy meal options.

Quinoa and vegetable stew gluten-free dinner recipe

Gluten-Free Instant Pot Recipe: Quinoa and Vegetable Stew

As a bonus, here’s a delicious gluten-free Instant Pot recipe that perfectly aligns with your healthy meal planning goals:


  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cups mixed vegetables (carrots, bell peppers, zucchini), chopped
  • 1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes
  • 1 can (15 oz) black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh cilantro for garnish


  1. Sauté: Set your Instant Pot to the sauté mode. Add a splash of oil and sauté the chopped onion and minced garlic until fragrant.
  2. Add Ingredients: Add the quinoa, mixed vegetables, diced tomatoes, black beans, cumin, paprika, turmeric, vegetable broth, salt, and pepper to the Instant Pot. Stir well to combine.
  3. Pressure Cook: Close the Instant Pot lid and set it to the manual pressure cooking mode for 8 minutes. Once the cooking is complete, allow for a natural pressure release for 5 minutes before performing a quick release.
  4. Serve: Carefully open the lid and give the stew a good stir. Ladle the quinoa and vegetable stew into bowls, garnish with fresh cilantro, and enjoy your wholesome gluten-free meal!

Glass food storage containers stacked, each with a chicken and vegetable soup


Experiment with these various types of meal planning to find the approach that best fits your lifestyle and dietary needs. Whether you prefer prepping ahead of time, bulk cooking, embracing leftovers, or utilizing convenient kitchen appliances, meal planning can undoubtedly help you achieve your health and wellness goals without sacrificing time or taste.

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